Sunday, June 22, 2008

2008: Mid-Year Round-Up

175. Sloan: Parallel Play (2008)

The album's name comes from the developmental stage wherein children will play in proximity, but not interact with one another. It's a cute title, but doesn't quite work as an analogy for the band, despite the fact that all four members write and sing their own songs. That's because there's too much synergy and collaboration going on, and after 9 great albums together, that's what you'd expect.

Here Patrick, Andrew, Jay, and Chris add a few more masterpieces to their portfolio, including Burn For It, Witches Wand, Cheap Champagne, and All I Am Is All You're Not. Sloan are one of the few bands that might not be capable of making a bad album. Grade: A- Fave Song: Witches Wand

176. Supergrass: Diamond Hoo Ha (2008)

Do yourself a favor and seek out the newest effort from one of Britpop's most enduring and consistently surprising bands. Following 2006's contemplative Road to Rouen, Diamond Hoo Ha returns a sense of fun and swagger to the group's sound.

Songs are propulsive and unpredictable, with discoey choruses, indie rock verses, harmony-laden pre-chourses, marching band intros, and keyboard solo bridges.

Check out Rebel In You, 345, Outside, Whiskey and Green Tea, or Diamond Hoo Ha Man for further evidence. Grade: A- Fave Song: Rebel In You

177. Alanis Morissette: Flavors of Entanglement (2008)

I don't think every artist needs to suffer to be great, but many do, and Alanis is one of them. Following a messy break-up with actor Ryan Reynolds, Morissette put her pain to song and fans are the beneficiaries.

It's becoming a cliche to say this, but Flavors of Entanglement is varied enough to come off as an alternate reality greatest hits package, encompassing all of Alanis' past musical moods and lives (save her teen pop days). The pissed-off Alanis of Jagged Little Pill appears on Straitjacket (which features a throbbing chorus that starts: "This shit's making me crazy / The way you nullify what's in my head"). The searching Earth child Alanis of Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie appears on opener Citizen of the Planet while the brooding diary-entry wordiness of that album is replicated in Moratorium. The confessions of Underneath and Tapes recall the driving narratives of Under Rug Swept. And finally, the clear-headed gentleness of songs like Everything on So-Called Chaos come back in the resolute album closer Incomplete.

Producer and co-writer Guy Sigsworth (formerly of Frou Frou, who did Let Go on the Garden State soundtrack) brings a full, catchy electronic-tinged sound to the songs. It's Alanis' strongest effort since you know when. Grade: B+ Fave Song: Giggling Again For No Reason

178. Jakob Dylan: Seeing Things (2008)

Jakob Dylan, who I admire greatly, tries the bare bones solo acoustic approach on his first album without The Wallflowers. It has the result of marking a clear difference between Dylan's solo and band songs, but it also feels slightly over-calculated to build cred, especially since producer Rick Rubin did the same thing with Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond.

The air of self-seriousness in the songs themselves doesn't help; a bit more of the wicked humor Jakob has displayed in the past (Sleepwalker, If You Never Got Sick) would have been welcome. As is, things can't help but drag a little.

Even so, it's not an album one can judge quickly or superficially. The songs aren't designed for instant gratification; they're more likely to grow on a person over time. Evil Is Alive and Well, Everybody Pays As They Go and Something Good This Way are all likely to stick with you for awhile. Grade: INC Fave Song: Something Good This Way Comes

179. My Morning Jacket: Evil Urges (2008)

With each album, My Morning Jacket's sound has gotten clearer and their songs have become more melodic. As a result, many hipster fans and critics have rebelled. Personally, I have no problem with more accessible material, but MMJ are still far from mainstream. Few bands on the radio these days encompass R & B, '60s pop, '70s AM mellow gold and disco, '80s southern rock, Britpop, and psychedelic country.

Granted, the modern funk and falsetto of Highly Suspicious walks the fine line between thrilling and annoying before giving over to the latter, but the quality of the other songs - nearly every one is a highlight - more than make up for it. Grade: A- Fave Song: Two Halves

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